After the reveal of Fiat Chrysler Automobile’s Dodge Demon at the New York Auto Show, I thought all the hooplah would be over. We all did. Little did I know Automotive News’ editorial board would pen a screed calling for the Demon’s banishment from American roads, which then caused others to cry foul at the bylineless editorial, and subsequently triggered Larry Vellequette — the author of the original piece — to double down on his thoughts, name attached.
In the last piece, Mr. Vellequette claims, “It is still a stupid idea for Fiat Chrysler to outfit the Dodge Demon as a high-performance drag racer and then sell it to the motoring public in a form that makes it inherently more dangerous off the track.”
He’s not wrong. Drag radials come fitted to the Demon from the factory, and he claims they’re “prone to lose traction in even a light morning mist under that much torque — regardless of electronic intervention.” I won’t argue with that.
But I will argue with the logic upon which Mr. Vellequette bases his call for exorcising this Demon from America’s roads, and who he thinks should do something about it.
First things first: I think Larry’s opinion is coming from a good place, and not one where he despises seeing those of us not driving Fiat 500Ls having more fun than him. Still, this editorial comes from a dealer-friendly publication, and it reeks of hypocrisy.
For starters, Larry calls out FCA for selling the Demon to people who may not have the training or personal self-control necessary to safely pilot a 840-horsepower car on drag radials in a light rain on the street. If you’ve learned anything by reading TTAC, it should be this: automakers don’t sell vehicles to the public; dealers do.
This is important.
While one could make the argument against FCA building a vehicle that’s unsafe from the factory, someone could also argue it’s the dealers’ responsibility to not sell an unsafe product directly to customers. You won’t see any dealer-aimed criticism from Automotive News, which has almost every dealer in America subscribing to the publication and hosts numerous sales, F&I, and other dealer-oriented workshops throughout the United States and online.
Still, we know dealers will sell anything to anyone if they’re allowed to do so. Don’t believe me? Ask Automotive News.
Instead, Vellequette makes a case for holding FCA responsible for manufacturing a safe product, so let’s focus on that.
From the latest editorial:
Yes, we live in a free country — and from what I have read this week, it’s now called “Murica,” where the word “freedom” is permanently substituted for the word “responsibility.”
But every freedom in this nation has a legal limit. We have freedom of speech, yet do not have the legal freedom to yell “fire” in a crowded theater. We have the freedom to keep and bear arms, yet do not have the freedom to legally own shoulder-fired anti-aircraft missiles.
The automotive free market will undertake all sorts of actions — dubious or otherwise — to turn a buck for shareholders. That includes neglecting to install wheel blocks on base-model versions of America’s most popular vehicle to save money on manufacturing costs. That includes installing weird doors on a lusted-after SUV that one cannot open manually without reading the owner’s manual — even though back-seat passengers are rarely the owners of the vehicles in which they ride.
And that includes putting drag radials on a 840-horsepower street car.
Thankfully, there’s one way to make sure someone does not shout “fire” in a crowded theater, and it’s surprisingly effective: legislation.
Yes, it’s a dreaded word, especially when it comes to the freedom afforded to us by the automobile. But it’s also the same thing that keeps you from dying in a crash thanks to mandatory seat belt laws, the requirement of airbags, and crash-protection rules administered by the NHTSA. The rule of law, not the rule of commerce, ensures you cannot legally own a shoulder-fired anti-aircraft missile. Without that law, many enterprising entrepreneurs in America would line up to sell the first rocket to a willing, civilian buyer.
A law wouldn’t be that difficult to implement. Here, in Ontario, Canada, one cannot pass a motor vehicle inspection with tires sized differently than the vehicle was fitted with from the factory. The same type of legislation effort could be applied to drag radials. Additionally, it’s much harder to hide drag radials from the cops than it is to hide your texting-and-driving habit should lawmakers make drag-radial street use illegal.
FCA is not going to cave and cancel the Demon before it arrives at dealers. Even Larry’s suggestion that FCA sell the Demon with street tires and a $1 upgrade to drag radials — as it does if a Demon buyer wants to add the front and rear passenger seats — isn’t going to stop someone from slapping the soft-sidewalled rubber back on this drag king before running down Woodward.
But legislating the legality of drag radials on the street will stop every motorist, no matter the vehicle, from driving with these supposed unsafe tires, and requiring safe tires during the a government-mandated inspection process ensures dealers must deliver a vehicle affixed with proper rubber.
There is the law of unintended consequences, though.
Remember that Ontario law that states a vehicle must be fitted with the same size tires as I cited above? The Demon runs a 315/40R18, which is only offered as a drag radial, meaning it may be difficult to run anything but drag radials on Demons in the province thanks to the law.